Punter Michael Koenen was just a blip on the national radar screen on July 29 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed him as a free agent from Atlanta.
But through the first two games, Koenen has provided the Bucs with a winning edge heading into Sunday's NFC South matchup against the Falcons at Raymond James Stadium.
"It felt great to get that win,'' Koenen said of Tampa Bay's 24-20 comeback victory at Minnesota. "These young guys have a ton of fight. I love the atmosphere here, I love what (coach) Raheem Morris does with these guys. It's just a never-say-die. You can't tell a young kid that he's going to lose. He's just going to keep fighting and it's a great setting.''
Koenen ranks second in the NFC with a 49.3 punting average and his net average of 45.2 yards also ranks second in the conference to San Francisco's Andy Lee.
Bucs opponents are averaging only 5.3 yards on their seven punt returns and a mere 8.5 yards on two kick returns, with Koenen already registering five touchbacks. He also successfully pulled off an onside kick against the Vikings, recovered by Elbert Mack.
To underscore Koenen's impact, Tampa Bay is averaging 9.5 yards more than its opponents on kick returns.
"Koenen has been spectacular,'' Morris said. "He's been just awesome. He's changed field position and he's changed games. That's a great job by our scouting department going out and getting him in free agency. He has certainly been a difference maker.''
Let's get physical
Morris lauded the play of Jeremy Zuttah, who replaced Ted Larsen as the starter at left guard.
"He's a game-changer," Morris said. "He played really physical and he played tough. He played nasty. He had the one penalty for holding and you can't throw a guy to the ground, but you've got to like the physicality of Zuttah. It's illegal, but you've got to like his effort.''
Atlanta has beaten Tampa Bay in the past five meetings, with an average margin of five points. … Josh Freeman has hit on 17 of 18 pass attempts on third down.